As it goes in creative fields, you kind of have to “make it” before you get paid. For many of you what that means is that you work with a fraction of the support you need to do your best work. Below are a few hacks for you lone, broke photographers out there. The running theme is get crafty. Here’s to hoping this helps get you where you’re going!
- Get to know your North, South, East and Wests. The sun is the best lighting you’ll come across, and if you can master directions you’ll be able to harness its entirely free powers. Get familiar enough with basic astronomy to time your outings so that you know where the sun and any shadows will be. Mastering positioning is that much more important when you can’t rely on assistants to help with lighting.
- Get a tripod. (And a camera with a self-timing feature.) Experiment with self portraiture. It’s a good exercise even if you’re not particularly interested in yourself as a subject. Sometimes a shadow or the intimation of a figure is enough to make a photo.
- Shoot outdoors. There’s no booking fee.
- Set up hook up an umbrella to a tripod to block light instead of a diffuser. Outdoor settings are generally the trickiest to navigate solo. Sunlight doesn’t always cooperate, so props and people to hold the props come in mighty handy. This umbrella situation gets a little tricky depending on the angle of the sun, and the umbrella/tripod combination , but it keeps you from having to convince a friend to tag along for a shoot just to hold up your diffuser. Duct tape helps.
- Use white foam core poster board as a diffuser. That said, if you can convince a friend to join you, skip the real deal gear, & pick-up a large piece of foam core at an art or office supply store to use instead.
- Coat cardboard in aluminum foil for a makeshift reflector. When it’s light, not shade, that you need, get down with double-sided tape or a glue gun & affix aluminum foil to a sturdy surface (cardboard works great). Depending on your shooting environment, you can prop up and angle the homemade reflector towards your subject using a chair, a tree, a basketball.
- Find a high stool and a cheap lamp with a removable shade. For indoor shoots, this is the best approximation of a spotlight. Raise the lamp to your preferred height; remove the shade and play with adjusting the shade’s position on the lamp.
- Hang a white sheet over a window. It filters the light beautifully when shooting indoors.
- Skip photoshop. Adobe photoshop is prohibitively expensive for some of us, but there are some pretty great alternatives on the internet for free. Pixlr is one such program.
- Get creative with your models. Socialize on the job and use shoots as an excuse to catch up with friends, or flatter strangers you pass on the street & ask them if they’d consent to an impromptu portrait (or if they’re down for scheduling something in the future).
- Use garages and building facades to shoot against. A solid surface of any color can make a great plain backdrop and will automatically put the focus on your subject.
- Check out The Hub to see if you can barter services with another creative type in your area. The ideal match would be a model looking for a photographer. They gain a photographer; you gain a subject.
Susannah Emerson | founder of The Keep Collection